The centrepiece of our 2016 Festival was Shakespeare’s final and most mysterious play, The Tempest. It was a wonderful piece to present at the enchanting Sotherington Barn, and was brimming with events to stimulate the imagination. The play started with a spectacular storm scene following which the themes of power, betrayal, revenge, and reconciliation were explored against a backdrop of young love, familial rivalry and comic misunderstandings. A masque of goddesses, spirits in form of a pack of hounds and a half-domesticated monster all added to the magic!
|PROSPERA, the right Duke of Milan
|MIRANDA, her daughter
|ALONSO, King of Naples
|SEBASTIAN, his sister
|ANTONIO, usurping Duke of Milan
|FERDINAND, son of the King of Naples
|GONZALA, an honest counsellor
|ADRIAN, a Lord
|TRINCULO, a jester
|STEPHANO, a drunken butler
|MASTER of a ship
|Crispin Glancy, Sarah Martin, Sarah Richardson, Freya Solly, Barney Webber
|CALIBAN, a savage and deformed slave
|ARIEL, an airy spirit
|IRIS, a spirit
|CERES, a spirit
|JUNO, a spirit
|NYMPHS & HOUNDS
|Crispin Glancy, Sam Hollis, Sarah Martin, Sarah Richardson, Freya Solly, Barney Webber
|Lucy Hollis and Clare Glancy
|Assistant Stage Managers
|Laura Bridgman and Jessica Marsh
|Brian Bird and Spatz Crawford
|Front of House Manager
|Deputy FOH Manager
|Box Office Manager
It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival and in particular to our centrepiece production of Shakespeare’s final and most magical play, The Tempest. Our production is set on the island of Bermuda where the themes of power, betrayal, revenge, and reconciliation are explored against a backdrop of young love, familial rivalry and comic misunderstandings. Brimming with events to stimulate the imagination, it opens with a storm and contains scenes of mysterious manipulation, a masque of goddesses and spirits in the form of a pack of hounds!
Shakespeare speaks directly to his public. He is for all generations and his craftsmanship invites the audience to join him in a shared act of poetic creation. Together for a few hours, we will imagine and inhabit another world – that of The Tempest.
‘Our world has just found another’ wrote the French essayist Michael de Montaigne in the 1580s. The Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch and English had all ventured into lands previously unknown to Europeans. They found peoples and kingdoms, which dazzled and frightened them, leading them to question the nature of mankind.
In 1580 Sir Francis Drake became the first Englishman, and only the second man in history, to sail around the globe. The world was suddenly unfamiliar, and its limits unknown. To a sixteen year old William Shakespeare the possibilities for travel, adventure, knowledge and conflict had been dramatically expanded and these formed the basis of themes and events within The Tempest.
Watching Caliban and Ariel do Prospera’s bidding, the audience can be in no doubt that, when two worlds meet, he who has the magic holds the power. Our production takes us to a mystical, displaced Isle, inspired by Bermuda. In the summer of 1609 an English ship was wrecked on the uninhabited Bermuda Islands and several narratives of the event and its fortunate aftermath reached London in the later months of 1610. William Strachey had been aboard Admiral George Somer’s Sea Venture when it was shipwrecked on Bermuda’s rocky coast. All passengers and crew reached shore safely and these survivors flourished for nine months in the Bermudas. Strachey’s account of the event ‘True Repertory of the Wracke, and redemption of Sir Thomas Gates’ was almost certainly known to Shakespeare.
Ariel: Safely in harbour
Is the king’s ship: in the deep nook where once
Though call’dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
From the still vexed Bermudas
Shakespeare probably wrote The Tempest between the arrival of this account and the play’s first recorded performance about a year later. In addition, Francis Fletcher’s journal of Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation of 1577-80, he described ‘a most deadly Tempest’, a deity called ‘Settaboh’, a native suddenly addicted to European wine, and other events and phrases that as you watch this evening you may recognise.
This Island is full of noises , colour and mystery which make it a rich locale for our setting and story.
Gender cross casting for our production of The Tempest is a bold contemporary move. I have long wanted to explore the dynamic nature of the play when the relationship between Prospera and Miranda is that of a mother and daughter. It was also the perfect opportunity to investigate the play with actor Karen Ascoe, who at the age of 22, found herself playing Miranda in The Tempest for BBC Radio, with Sir John Gielgud as Prospero.
Jonathan Bate, editor of the RSC text, says;
“ I think the key to Shakespeare’s endurance, and the fact in every culture and every age he seemed to speak to the present comes from this paradox. On the one hand he was the ‘soul of the age’, all great conflicts and innovations of the age, the sense of the discovery of new worlds, new ways of looking at the world, it all is there in Shakespeare. At the same time he never confined himself to the particularities of his historical moment, and that meant that, because he explored fundamental questions about human society and human life, he speaks to every age. Shakespeare is always our contemporary”
So it is right that we question where possible and reinvestigate Shakespeare’s plays today. This evening The Tempest is performed by a very special company comprising professional and local actors and aspiring young talent.
A Take on ‘The Tempest’
For a piece that has spawned so many interpretations and spin-offs, The Tempest is deceptively simple in plot terms. It also obeys, unlike virtually every other Shakespearean work, the classical unities of time, place and action.
It’s no coincidence that so many of his plays contain storm scenes. Julius Caesar, King Lear, Pericles, Macbeth and even The Comedy of Errors use the biggest cosmic stage direction of all as a deliberate device to dislocate and divide, to test human nature and morality under extreme conditions.
The shipwreck at the start of Twelfth Night rips apart brother and sister, but in The Tempest the storm is the vengeful creation of wronged Propsero. He is magician, ring master, director, gathering an unilikely cast together in real time to seek revenge and right wrongs.
Shakespeare knew his audience as well as modern TV producers know theirs. Take a look at the popularity of recent reality TV. Shows like I’m a Celebrity…, Castaway and Big Brother all invite us to watch humanity writhe under a microscope.
In a similar way Robinson Crusoe, Tom Hanks in Castaway and the boys in Lord of the Flies are exposed to the extremes of their own and others’ darkest natures.
The stakes are high, particularly when the rule-book for civilised, social behaviour has been lost in the waters: power, for the castaways as well as for the existing islanders, is newly tempting and within grasp. And in the best comic tradition, sometimes that frantic collision produces brilliantly funny sparks. In the game of survival, control becomes a desperate device to reassert authority and normality.
Almost all the relationships in The Tempest are based on some kind of imbablance, or vying for one-upmanship. Propsero is the most controlling force of all, literally able to whip up a storm, but also the ultimate colonial exploiter. As Caliban spits: “This island’s mine…which thou tak’st from me”. Ariel, magical sprite and Man Friday, spends the whole play desperate for release from slavery. Miranda’s relationship to her single parent is one of ultimate servitude and control: her whole world (island) view has been shaped by her education, and now too the choice of her potential suitor.
We get very few insights into Prospero’s mind, that explain the journey from revenge to virtue and prevent the plot lurching into the Tarantino bloodbath of a Titus Andronicus. But Prospero’s “rough magic” cannot completely control the workings and unpredictability of the heart, which gives life to all The Tempest’s characters, including Prospero. By leaving the island he is ultimately accepting his own humanity and mortality; even he is subject to our approval: “Let your indulgence set me free.”
The magic spell, whether conjured out of stage machinery and elabotrate sets in a London Hall in 1612, or out of the human imagination on a grassy bank in the Hampshire countryside in 2016, cannot last forever. But some 400 years after its conception, it’s still pretty potent, poetic “stuff”…
“Such an amazing show tonight – we are hooked!”